Greis stuns Norwegians with biathlon hat-trick

In 2002, Ole Einar Bjørndalen had been the outstanding biathlete of the Games, wining four gold medals and cementing his place as one of the finest biathletes in history. Since then, his performances had continued to impress – he won another four titles at the world championships in 2005. Four years later, many expected him to continue his domination – but they figured without Germany’s Michael Greis.

Greis announced himself with his first gold of the Games in the individual 20km. Bjørndalen missed his fifth shot in the first shooting phase, and then missed again in the second phase. He incurred two one-minute penalties against just one for Greis. The German couldn't match Bjørndalen's overall speed – the Norwegian champion skied the course 44 seconds quicker – but the penalties were enough to ease Greis into first position.

Next came the 4x7.5km relay, in which the Germans were never seriously challenged after a first leg in which, to considerable surprise, the USA held the early lead. The Americans faded, though, and Greis led his team home to victory. Bjørndalen was, once again, the fastest competitor of all but his team-mates had left him too much to do, and the Norwegian champions could finish only fifth.

The two rivals met again in the 15km. Bjørndalen led for most of the event, sensing his chance to revive his gold medal winning habit. But once again, fate was against him as much as Greis. The Norwegian skier missed two targets in the final stage, allowing Greis to get past him, as well as the Polish athlete Tomasz Sikora. Bjørndalen trailed by 24 seconds after his penalty loops and launched a furious final assault, but he could not get into the top two, finishing six seconds behind Sikora and a further six behind Greis.

Greis completed his hat-trick of gold medals, a triumph that very few had predicted. He was named German sportsman of the year.